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Are We About to Execute Yet Another Possibly Innocent Person?

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Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on September 15, 2010. Despite his claims that he was convicted based upon faulty eye-witness identification (the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the nation); that he had an alibi supported by four witnesses; and that there was no forensic evidence that conclusively connected him to the crime for which he was convicted, every court has rejected his claims and constant protestations of innocence since his conviction 16 years ago. He faces execution as a result.

New evidence has been unearthed since his conviction which suggests improper influence in Mr. Keith's identification by an adult survivor of the shooting in which three persons were killed, and one adult and two children were wounded. In the same respect, other eye-witness identifications appear to be flawed or tainted by improper influence and suggestion

Furthermore, information was developed that points to another suspect whose conduct and statements clearly appear to implicate him in the crime. A seven year old survivor of the shooting excluded Mr. Keith and identified someone else by name as the shooter -- the brother of this other suspect. There is also contradictory evidence by a nurse regarding the alleged naming of Mr. Keith by the adult survivor of the shooting, who told at least four persons that he did not know who the shooter was. The other facts supporting Mr. Keith's claim are too numerous to set forth here, but they are equally compelling.

In considering these cases, I am willing to recognize that many guilty persons claim that they are innocent; that both the judicial system and the family of victims need and are entitled to closure; and that procedural rules are necessary for such closure and to avoid repetitive and endless petitions for relief. However, there are those cases with growing frequency that cry out for a fresh look, a relaxation, if necessary, of the rules, where the choice is between executing a possibly innocent man or giving him the opportunity to establish his wrongful conviction and actual innocence. This may very well be such a case. To grant him the relief which he seeks is to render justice; to execute him at this juncture without more -- is to deny it.

Disclosure: I have joined in a petition to grant clemency for Kevin Keith with thirty-one other former judges and prosecutors filed today with Governor Strickland and the Ohio Parole Board.